December 16, 2020

PDS Field Hockey Undeterred by 1-4 Start, Stuck Together in Producing Winning Season

UP HER ALLEY: Princeton Day School field hockey player Ally Antonacci, left, goes after the ball in a game this fall. Junior star Antonacci helped spark the PDS offense as the Panthers ended the season on a four-game winning streak to post a final record of 5-4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

When the Princeton Day School field hockey team lost four of its first five games this fall, its players could have gotten discouraged.

Instead, PDS caught fire and got on a roll, reeling off four straight victories to end the season with a winning record of 5-4.

In assessing her squad’s late surge, Panther head coach Heather Farlow saw it as a product of some rigorous self-assessment on the part of her players.

“Our season was so condensed, we started one week and then we would get better the next week,” said Farlow.

“By playing competitive hockey against another team and not just scrimmaging among ourselves, it gave them the opportunity to see what they did well and what we need to work on. It gave them the perspective that they needed even though the coaches had said some things. It was learn by doing. If you don’t get the result that you expect, then you can make the change and improve. You are creating opportunities for yourself.”

The Panthers displayed that improvement when they edged Stuart 1-0 on November 4, weeks after losing 4-1 to the Tartans on October 21.

“Stuart is a very strong team, they were in the finals last year for Mercer County and they are always strong,” added Farlow.

“They are well coached and so we had to tighten up our defense. We ended up being on defense quite a bit during that game. It was one of those things where we knew we had to create our opportunities and just stay positive. The girls stuck with it.”

PDS stuck with it to the end, pulling out a 4-3 overtime win at Bordentown in its finale on November 10.

“They have one player who is just excellent (Morgan Kato), she is a Division 1 bound player,” said Farlow who got two goals from junior star Ally Antonacci in the win with freshman Tessa Caputo and sophomore Jadyn Huff chipping in one apiece.

“They scored goals off of corners and this kid is the person they gave the ball to. They had some speed up front. We did well against Bordentown because we were able to control possession most of the game. That is what we have been focusing on all season. It was an exciting way to end the season. They had played Stuart earlier and they had won one and lost one so I knew that they were going to be competitive.”

Over the course of the fall, the Panthers found themselves in a lot of exciting games as they played local prep foes in seven of its nine games.

“I think there was good competition between Stuart, Pennington, Hun, and us,” said Farlow.

“It was really nice; they stayed competitive but everybody was so glad to be playing. It was just a really positive experience.”

In Farlow’s view, just getting to be on the field all fall was a big positive.

“The kids were just so happy to be back at preseason after not being on campus for five months,” said Farlow.

“That was the one thing for a lot of them to look forward to. Being in school and classes this year was so different and playing a sport after school was the one thing that seems normal.”

The squad’s group of seniors led by captains Gianna Gasparro, Skye Harris, Olivia Phillips, and Aaliyah Sayed along with Hannah Choe and Caroline Topping showed a lot of class.

“The four captains started working with me in June, we started to do Zoom calls and they took a leadership course through the National Federation of High Schools,” said Farlow.

“We talked about what they wanted the season to look like and how we were going to have to stay so flexible. We decided that I was going to make all four of them captains because we didn’t know what would happen if I make someone captain and they got quarantined, so I was counting on those four. When the volleyball season got canceled, we got two more seniors in Hannah and Caroline. They didn’t have their spring sports season so they came out and they were great additions.”

Looking ahead, the Panthers boast a good core of returners.

“We just didn’t know what we are going to look like and we were really pleased,” said Farlow, who noted that the program lost three key seniors to graduation from the 2019 squad in Lexie Hausheer, Caroline Haggerty, and Skye Mundenar.

“We have some really good athletes in the lower grades. The juniors are strong and we have some good sophomores and two freshman.”

Juniors Maggie Zarish-Yasunas and Ally Antonacci emerged as strong performers this fall for PDS.

“Maggie stepped into that attacking center mid role for us,” said Farlow, whose other young stars include freshmen Logan Harrison and Caputo, sophomores Sophia Jaffe, Anna Terry, and Huff along with juniors Frances Gallagher, Haley Sullivan, Frances Bobbitt, and Rebecca Willner.

“She made a huge difference, she was running all over the field all of the time. Ally is phenomenal. Her main focus has been ice hockey. It is nice because she is just such a good athlete. She takes what we do here and what she does in ice hockey. She will put the ball over the goalie’s pads because that is natural for her in ice hockey to do a wrister. She has great vision, she is very critical for our offense.”

Farlow and her assistant coaches relished getting the chance to work with their players on a daily basis.

“I am just glad that we got to play; it was great to be out there coaching again because I hadn’t coached in a long time,” said Farlow, whose staff included former Princeton University star Annabeth Donovan, Brandi Ritz, the director of field hockey at Centercourt Sports in Lawrence, and current Princeton standout Claire Donovan, who is deferring her junior year.

“My staff was great this year. Claire and Annabeth are both phenomenal. Brandi is just coming out of the college ranks. She is over there running field hockey at Centercourt; she is incredibly knowledgeable. It is nice to have a full coaching staff that is very dedicated to what they do.”